The National Investigation Agency (NIA), investigating the Antilla bomb scare – Hiran Mansukh murder, arrested controversial former ‘encounter specialist’ turned Shiv Sena party leader Pradeep Sharma on Thursday noon. NIA had carried out searches at Sharma’s Andheri residence early on Thursday morning.
An NIA team along with armed CRPF personnel raided Sharma's house located in J B Nagar in Andheri west around 6 am, the official said.
Here's all you need to know about Pradeep Sharma
Sharma used to be a trusted officer of former Mumbai police commissioner Param Bir Singh when the latter headed the Thane police.
Once featured on the cover of 'Time' magazine for gunning down over 150 dreaded criminals and terrorists, he had resigned from the Maharashtra Police in mid-July in 2019. At the time, he was the chief of the Thane Anti-Extortion Cell (AEC).
Before taking voluntary retirement, Sharma had headed the anti-extortion cell of the Thane crime branch.
He unsuccessfully contested the 2019 Assembly election from Nalasopara in Palghar district of Maharashtra.
Once dreaded by the underworld and idolised by the masses as an "encounter Specialist", Sharma along with other prominent "encounter specialists" of the 1990s like Vijay Salaskar, Praful Bhosale, Arun Borude, Aslam Momin, Raju Pillai, Ravindra Angre and Daya Nayak helped "clear up the city of organized crime activities".
Many of these "gun-masters" were trained by then DGP Arvind Inamdar, sported sophisticated weapons, and frequently grabbed headlines for "encounter killings" of one or the other criminal from various gangs which used to operate in Mumbai, and occasionally even terrorists.
Many movies were inspired by their gangland exploits. At one point, as with many of his other "encounter specialist" colleagues, Sharma got embroiled in the custodial death of terror suspect Khwaja Yunus in 2003, and was transferred to Amravati.
In 2008, he was dismissed for allegedly harbouring links with the very same mafia he was battling, and arrested two years later for an alleged staged "encounter".
Undeterred, Sharma fought his dismissal before the Bombay High Court and Maharashtra Administrative Tribunal, was acquitted and reinstated in the police force in 2016.
At his new posting as Thane AEC chief, two years ago, he shot to national prominence in September 2017 by arresting absconder mafia don Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar's younger brother, Iqbal, and blew the lid off a major extortion racket targeting builders and other wealthy persons in Mumbai and Thane.
Born in Uttar Pradesh and raised in Dhule (Maharashtra), the 59-year-old AEC chief was scheduled to retire from Maharashtra Police in May 2020.
Earlier, Sharma had been questioned by the NIA for two days at its office in south Mumbai as part of the probe.
The central investigation agency had earlier arrested former police officers Sachin Waze, Riyazuddin Kazi, Sunil Mane, former police constable Vinayak Shinde and cricket bookie Naresh Gour for their involvement in the case.
It had recently arrested Santosh Shelar and Anand Jadhav in this connection. The NIA has said that both of them were allegedly involved in the conspiracy to plant an SUV with explosives near industrialist Mukesh Ambani's residence.
The SUV was found abandoned near Ambani's south Mumbai residence 'Antilia' on February 25 this year. Thane-based businessman Mansukh Hiran, who was in possession of the vehicle, was found dead at a Mumbra creek on March 5.
The two linked cases, earlier being probed by Maharashtra Police, were later taken over by the NIA.
(With input from PTI)